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Many westerners used to call the Soviet Union "Russia." Russians too regarded it as their country, but that did not mean they were entirely happy with it. In the end, in fact, Russia actually destroyed the Soviet Union. How did this happen, and what kind of Russia emerged?
In this illuminating book, Geoffrey Hosking explores what the Soviet experience meant for Russians. One of the keys lies in messianism--the idea rooted in Russian Orthodoxy that the Russians were a "chosen people." The communists reshaped this notion into messianic socialism, in which the Soviet order would lead the world in a new direction. Neither vision, however, fit the "community spirit" of the Russian people, and the resulting clash defined the Soviet world.
Hosking analyzes how the Soviet state molded Russian identity, beginning with the impact of the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war. He discusses the severe dislocations resulting from collectivization and industrialization; the relationship between ethnic Russians and other Soviet peoples; the dramatic effects of World War II on ideas of homeland and patriotism; the separation of "Russian" and "Soviet" culture; leadership and the cult of personality; and the importance of technology in the Soviet world view.
At the heart of this penetrating work is the fundamental question of what happens to a people who place their nationhood at the service of empire. There is no surer guide than Geoffrey Hosking to reveal the historical forces forging Russian identity in the post-communist world.
Rulers and Victims is a comprehensive and nuanced book that will startle many readers who might otherwise have assumed that Russia's dominant place in the Soviet firmament had protected it from the predations of a system that professed to revolve around its language and culture. Mr. Hosking also helps us to grasp the paradoxical outlook of Russia's current ruling class.
— Joshua Rubenstein
Hosking takes a rather sympathetic view of a highly talented and complex nation infused with a deep conviction that it bears a special mission, whether as a spiritual "Third Rome," to counter the consumerism and shallowness of the West, or as master of an immense and enormously rich domain...Drawing on extensive scholarship and voluminous primary sources, Hosking builds a strong and authoritative argument that the Soviet Union "was both Russian and anti-Russian"...The evidence Hosking marshals is extensive.
— Serge Schmemann
[This is] a uniquely rewarding overview: not history in the formal sense, but a profound look at the whole of the Russian phenomenon...Hosking expertly examines and illustrates all aspects, past and present, of Russia's and Russians' behaviour, thought and feelings. What emerges is the big picture achieved through smaller brushstrokes, as he considers and often reconciles the contradictory views of the Russian experience.
— Robert Conquest
Westerners have often equated Russia with the Soviet Union, though it was only one of 15 republics in the USSR. Non-Russian citizens of the Soviet Union similarly had little doubt that Russians were the dominant--and privileged--national group. Yet despite Russians' seemingly favored position in the Soviet constellation, for a good part of the 20th century they were forced to stand by as their nationhood was subverted or suppressed to meet the needs of the state. That experience, which continues to affect Russian politics today, is magisterially and chillingly documented by the British historian Geoffrey Hosking in Rulers and Victims...A penetrating account...Hosking's important and timely book provides an in-depth look at the forces shaping Russian identity, illuminating the aftershocks of the Soviet experience that are likely to reverberate for years to come.
— Rebecca Reich
Hosking traces the turbulences of the Soviet century to the clashes between the incompatible messianic ideas of Orthodoxy and socialism, their uncomfortable sit with the "the community spirit of the Russian people," and the traditional authoritarianism of the Russian Empire that reasserted itself under the Bolsheviks...[He] makes an engaging and rich argument, illustrating his monograph with examples drawn from a wide range of literary, political, and historical sources.
— Frederick Corney
Hosking's analysis of the failure of the internal Soviet state is peerless...Hosking has always been a deeply thoughtful historian. Here he delivers a beautifully written, profound and brilliant analysis not just of the USSR but of Russianness itself: anyone who wants to understand Russia today or who wonders why the Russians are special should read this outstanding, sensitive book.
— Simon Sebag Montefiore
1 Marxism and the Crisis of Russian Messianism 10
2 The Effects of Revolution and Civil War 36
3 Soviet Nationality Policy and the Russians 70
4 Two Russias Collide 90
5 Projecting a New Russia 142
6 The Great Fatherland War 189
7 The Sweet and Bitter Fruits of Victory 224
8 The Relaunch of Utopia 268
9 The Rediscovery of Russia 304
10 The Return of Politics 338
11 An Unanticipated Creation: The Russian Federation 372
Appendix Tables 411